Jerry's Famous Deli
12655 Ventura Blvd., Studio City CA 91604 and 9 other locations (map); 818-980-4245; jerrysfamousdeli.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: This deli delivers a just ok diner-style burger that needs some patty help
Want Fries with That? Yes! Get the very tasty fries and slip the rings
Price: Cheeseburger w/fries, $11.95
Notes: The burger could be a stand out if they were willing to spend a little more time and money figuring out a better patty
A meal at Jerry's Famous Deli can seem like a rite of passage in Los Angeles. All roads eventually run through a mediocre meal at one of the behemoth eateries. I say behemoth because a restaurant dedicated to a particular kind of Los Angeles excess: the attempt to be all things to all people. The menu is as vast as the sprawling interiors with everything from the deli standbys like matzoh ball soup and pastrami to spaghetti and meatballs. The years (and undeniable success) since its 1978 opening on Ventura Boulevard in Studio City has led to a veritable one-stop-shop of average offerings.
I can remember when I was first confronted with the menu about 15 years ago. Growing up in the restaurant business meant my eyes went wide with the challenge of keeping all of the various dishes prepped and delivering them with any level quality. A sampling of the outer edges of the menu answered the question: They couldn't do the latter.
Yet to leave Jerry's off my burger review list after all these years seemed an oversight, so I determined to sacrifice a lunch to Jerry's burger in hopes of finding my preconceptions overturned. In some respects, they were.
The burger section of Jerry's menu is relatively modest. I mean, they only offer a hamburger, a veggie burger, a turkey burger, a cheeseburger, a teriyaki burger, a chili burger, a bacon cheddar cheeseburger, a Louisiana burger (Ortega chile is the star), an avocado burger, a salmon burger, an avocado salmon burger, and a teriyaki salmon burger. Ok, I'm being a little heavy-handed about the menu item proliferation problem at Jerry's, but still, I think the fact we are looking at a small corner of a larger menu speaks to my point.
As you'd guess I opted for a straightforward cheeseburger ($11.95) with American cheese, lettuce, tomato, and onion. I was pleased that the server didn't bat an eye when I asked for a half and half order on the fries and rings.
The cheeseburger arrived looking much more appealing than I'd imagined. Had Jerry's done it? Had they surprised me with a quality diner-style burger lurking amid the pastrami, pizza, pasta, and other various and sundry offerings? Sort of.
There was a lot that was very good about the burger. Let's start with the bun. Not only do they make the very canny choice of a large-scale, commercial bakery bun, but they also managed to put a near-perfect toasting on it. The spongy bun had just the right amount of chew from the toasting to add that layer of substance the sizable eight-ounce patty demanded.
Unfortunately, said patty was not the equal of the bun. Commercial beef will always struggle when portioned to eight ounces, but this one had the added problems of being underseasoned and lacking a proper char from the grill.
That said, the toppings were very good. I particularly liked the sort of medium grilling they gave the onions. This is probably worth a whole breakdown from Kenji, but I think there is a literal and figurative sweet spot for grilled onions and these came pretty close to hitting it.
The fries and rings were both golden and attractive, but one stood out. The fast food-style spuds were as good as your going to get from a single-fried, frozen french fry. That isn't a backhanded compliment—I am apt to prefer a frozen (blanched then fried) french fry to a fresh cut one that isn't treated properly (the McDonald's fry versus the In-N-Out fry jumps to mind). The rings weren't in the same zip code in terms of quality. They weren't terrible, but I wouldn't order them again knowing how good the fries are.
It seemed that Jerry's had bested my low expectations. I'm not going to claim this is a burger that you need to go out of your way for, but it hits enough marks to qualify as satisfactory. That said, there is another knock on the Jerry's burger: It ain't cheap. My standard cheeseburger and fries came in at $11.95. Certainly I eat more expensive burgers, but for the level of quality of the ingredients this one feels a bit pricey. In the end, my experience with the burger at Jerry's was better than I'd expected, but still not a stand out. Perhaps that's all a restaurant like this is trying to accomplish.